Depending on how you grew up, you might pay wads of cash to lie on a couch and have your feelings analysed. Or you might just listen to Ma-E and call it a day. At the core of the rapper who was named Ezee Hanabe, and at the centre of his first solo album, is motivating ikasi.

The Township Counsellor is the name of Ma-E’s debut and a nickname he was given by the streets beyond where he was raised, Soweto. “When we started with Teargas, people always perceived me as the hood-est guy in the group,” he tells me. “I’m very clean and classy, though. A lot of people know that, but people started to clone names around me. Inja yase kasi (top dog in the hood), names like that. In my lyrics, even if I talk about partying, I always throw in one or two lines about how to get to that situation. Just to inspire the gents.”

He refers to his current, and fifth, single, Lie 2 Me featuring AKA, and emphasises that he’s telling his listeners to “‘get out of the shell’. I’m trying to say: to get into the situation that I’m in now, it doesn’t matter where you come from. Just free yourself. I’m with the guys from the north every day and I can’t speak English very well, but who cares? I try every day to improve myself.”

The Rap Dads reality TV star’s desire to be better is echoed on On My Way (featuring PRO), Uyangizwa, Hlasela and Siyaz’philela. Ma-E chronicles his journey from being young, poor and sleeping under the kitchen table, becoming successful, a father and, finally, to knowing his place in the industry.

Ma-E’s chosen to rather reinvent himself than let the young guns shoot past him like the stars they are. This is why he’s chosen the tractor, or a ghanda ghanda as it is known in the township, to be the symbol associated with him. He tells me: “iGhanda ghanda is there to reconstruct or start something afresh. It’s in the construction area, working. So I’m always working. The real angle of this album, even though we can still party, is to free your mind. Go out there and be you.”

Being himself has come at a cost for Ma-E. The price has been an estranged relationship with his brother, Ntukza. The brothers started Teargas with Ntokozo “K.O” Mdluli in the early Naughties. Now, K.O and Ma-E fly the skhanda genre flag high under the Cashtime Life imprint, while Ntukza pursues his solo career separately.

On Blame Nobody, Ma-E expresses his gratitude to K.O and shouts out his personal manager, Siya. He also addresses the rift that has been reported about, between the two Teargas/Cashtime Life artists and Ntukza.

He exclaims: “I love my brother so much! I wanted to support whatever he wanted to do. At the end of the day, there are sacrifices you have to make for the game. There are things you have to humble yourself about.”

Ma-E says Ntukza had family and other obligations as he went on to collaborate with DJ Vigilante and L-Tido on big songs. People also got into his brother’s ear and Ma-E says Ntukza got upset with the other Teargas members. “We knew this is the situation with Teargas,” Ma-E elaborates. “We need to drive ourselves back into the music industry differently so that we can come back and do something even bigger.”

However, Ma-E says they are on the road to mending their bond. “Now we’re talking and working things out. I love my brother, man. His pain is my pain. I understand where he comes from. With Blame Nobody, I’m saying, let’s not point fingers at anyone. Let’s see how we can move forward.”

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